Higher Education Troubled by a `Contract with America': GOP Election Triumph Has Educators Seeking New Strategies

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Higher Education Troubled by a 'Contract With America': GOP Election. Triumph Has Educators Seeking New Strategies

by Garland L. Thompson

WASHINGTON, DC -- President Clinton, looking forward to his 1996 re-election campaign, is not the only one shaken by the GOP and its "Contract With America." College and university administrators, are looking over their shoulders, too.

For the Nov. 8 vote which pushed Republicans to narrow majorities in the U.S. House and Senate did more than turn out Democratic committee heads who were influential supporters of higher education. It endorsed an agenda that deeply troubles leaders in the highereducation establishment.

Edward Elmendorf, vice president for government relations of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), put it this way:

"We're looking at some major challenges over the next couple of years. Certainly, the Republican Contract With America lists options that are damaging to higher education, but we'll have to see" how the priorities are determined, Elmendorf said. He found room for healthy debate in the dichotomy between Democratic control of the White House and GOP control of the Congress.

Scorched Earth?

"In the sense that those issues that are raised in the Contract will be brought up and discussed thoroughly, that's good," Elmendorf said. "But what's the context? Will it be in the context of a scorched-earth policy, as if you were going back to zero-based budgeting, or will it be in the context of a more constructive policy?"

David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), also was concerned about the platform on which Republican House candidates ran:

"Not only has the deck been shuffled, but we have some very new cards in this deck," Warren said. The Contract, written by Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich and enthusiastically supported by 300 candidates, listed "significant targets in higher education" that directly threaten opportunities for poor and minority students to pursue collegiate education, Warren said.

"Their pledge to reduce higher education spending by $15 billion over five years, eliminating the interest subsidy on student loans while the student is in school, in addition to the Contract proposals to eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOGs), Perkins loans, TRIO programs and college work-study programs will take away billions of dollars from the poorest students, making it much harder for them to complete their educations."

Warren cited other projected cuts, such as proposals to reduce the overhead rate on federally supported research -- so-called indirect costs -- and to reduce the growth of the National Science Foundation budget. "We would persuade the Congress that this is exactly the wrong way to go. These programs have been successful, and the greatest problem is that they have been under-funded."

Teaching Hospital Cuts

Elmendorf expressed dismay at plans to cut $13.4 billion in funds for teaching hospitals, as well as other elements in supplemental materials to the Republican Contract.

Warren said NAICU was specifically concerned about Title III institutional aid to strengthen historically Black colleges and universities. "The question is whether, in the rush to balance the budget, this new Congress will go after programs" without checking to see which ones were most beneficial.

Warren and Elmendorf did see a glimmer of hope in the Republican House platform.

"The sentiment of this Congress is for deregulation," Warren said. Under the 1992 higher education reauthorization, State Post-Secondary Review Entities (SPRE) were given broad powers which, among other things, "federalized accreditation, creating quite intrusive and expensive requirements that we think should be deregulated."

Under the SPREs, a $20-million program, stateselected boards are empowered to strip Title IV funding from any institution found to violate a state's SPRE guidelines. …